Refs determined to revive the scrum
September 4, 2013
Former England trio of Jeff Probyn, Brian Moore and Jason Leonard trial the new scrum engagement sequence at Twickenham © ESPNscrum
Leading referee Wayne Barnes has admitted there may be teething problems with the new scrum engagement sequence that will be trialled in this season's Aviva Premiership but is convinced it is already having a positive effect.
The Premiership will adopt the 'Crouch, Bind, Set' protocol at scrum time as part of a global trial that began on August 1 with the aim of reducing the number of collapses and resets and improving player safety and welfare while at the same time addressing the accusation that the set-piece had become 'grotesque farce'.
The new sequence, a revision of the 'Crouch, Touch, Set' approach that was trialled last season, follows extensive testing during the recent IRB Pacific Rugby Cup, which showed the potential for a more stable platform and more successful scrums.
The Rugby Championship, South Africa's Currie Cup, New Zealand's ITM Cup and France's Top 14 have since introduced the sequence with its Premiership debut set to come in Friday night's season-opener between Newcastle and Bath.
"We need to do this," said Barnes, speaking at a Rugby Football Union briefing at Twickenham. "Spectators, the media, players are crying out saying you need this - and there is pressure on referees to deliver it."
Barnes and his fellow elite referees gathered in Marcoussis in France earlier this year to discuss the new sequence with representatives from the International Rugby Board's Scrum Steering Group and others including former England hooker Brian Moore who warned the officials that this was 'the last chance to save the scrum' and had the referees pack down against each other in order to better understand the mechanics.
"We got together as a group of referees and with the help of some experts we decided how we were going to referee it," said Barnes. "I had the great honour of scrumming against Steve Walsh.
"We then went to the teams and so far have done 40 club visits - in the Premiership and Championship - where we have been getting the expert views of the coaches and we are also talking to the players and asking how can we make sure this works and how we can make this better for the game."
The season-long trial will be reviewed in July/August next year with the International Rugby Board Council set to decide in November whether there is enough evidence to prompt a permanent change to the laws that govern the game.
"What we are saying to the clubs is that we want balance at each stage," he explained. At 'Couch' they are all going to be balanced, when they 'Bind' they are going to be balanced again and once they are 'Set' they are not to carry on pushing - the scrum must be stationary and balanced before the ball comes in. That is what has been happening in the trials and in training sessions where we have been."
He continued: "The scrum is going to engage when we ask - it is not a case of guessing when Wayne Barnes is going to say set. They engage when they are asked and we are only going to put the ball in when the scrum is stationary, so we are not going to have a 'hit' and then carry on through the mark as the ball gets rolled in at the same time. We want this to be a fair competition. These are the things we are telling we want from them and will be expecting."
Another key element of the trial is a strict policing of the scrum feed. "Referees in The Rugby Championship have been saying 'Yes 9'," added Barnes. "This is an invitation for the player to put the ball in pretty quickly - it is not an invitation for the defensive team to start pushing.
"The pushing starts once the ball is in and we have got to be strict on that. If the No.9 wants to tap the hooker's hand we will not be pedantic about that but what we are saying is the pushing only starts when the ball is in so there is a fair contest.."
Time will tell whether the trial is a success and the Premiership will provide further hope that the scrum can regain its status in the game - but Barnes is encouraged by what he has seen so far.
"We are seeing fewer collapses, fewer scrums on the floor which has been great for player safety and welfare. We have also seen a change in player behaviour, they are looking to be balanced, looking to wait and pushing when the ball comes in, the ball is going in straight and being won against the head."
He added: "There will be teething problems...but we've got to work together so this new procedure works."
Wayne Barnes took charge of last season's Aviva Premiership final and will have the whistle for the opening Premiership clash between Newcastle and Bath © PA Photos
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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